This week’s orgins post comes from Chris Gilson and Patrick Dunleavy the people behind the LSE British Politics and Policy Blog. To access British Politics and Policy at LSE please go to http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/. You can follow the blog on Twitter here.
The web gives academics an unparalleled opportunity to distribute their work to audiences previously unavailable to them. But in a period when government has announced that it is axing all public teaching funding for the social sciences, university social scientists are likely to find themselves stretched to the absolute limit. Who then will have the time and expertise to maintain their own individual blog?
The truth is that the single-author blog model has already gone out of fashion, and is in rapid decline. A blog is only as good as its readership and without consistently strong posts, and an easy way of finding them, there will be no readership. In the modern world of web 2.0, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter, it simply is not very effective to have a single author, single issue, rarely updated blog; all the effort made in writing and posting will be typically wasted.
Even creating a combined blog portal for a whole university is no guarantee of success. For instance, the Warwick University blog portal lists over 7,000 blogs which in combination have over 140,000 entries. But there are no indications of which are the popular or timely blogs, nor even a separation of staff and student work.
These considerations help explain why the vast majority of popular political blogs are now multi-author blogs (MABs); that is, themed and coherent blogs run by a proper editorial team and calling on the services of multiple authors to ensure that the blog remains topical, can cumulate a great deal of content and can ensure a good ‘churn’ of high quality posts. We believe that MABs are a very important development, and they can be an assured way for an academic institution to become more effective in the context of the web.
The rapid success of the British Politics and Policy @ LSE blog is a case in point. Set up originally as a temporary experiment to cover the 2010 General Election, we have now posted over 800 blogs from over 250 different authors. The blog has become a means by which LSE seeks to reach out to people from other institutions and universities in the UK and abroad. Our contributors include politicians and journalists as well as members of think tanks, NGOs and the wider academic community.
The mission of the British Politics and Policy @ LSE is to communicate the social sciences in ways that broaden public understanding of them and draw out their huge contribution to the British economy and society. Our sole editorial criterion is whether a blog post contributes to this goal. Most of our blogs include tables, charts and accessible accounts of social science methods and evidence that too often get lost or dumbed down in short-termist media commentaries.
They key to success lies in the establishment of the right governance structures for the blog. British Politics and Policy @ LSE is run by a small, dedicated team that manages and coordinates the main blog site on the behalf of the London School of Economics as a whole. They also act as a ‘clearing house’, to ensure all postings conform to the blog’s style and the institution’s rules, and as a way of gathering outputs from academics, and then converting them into blog posts accessible to the public and practitioners alike – for instance, with a narrative heading and summary paragraph, electronic links to relevant material, and always ending with follow-on reading or places to go next for readers to learn more.
The blog can also generate written outputs on the open Web for events that only a few people can otherwise attend and can create an accessible and open-Web output for articles by LSE academics that otherwise might be readable only by people with university library access to journal full texts – a category that actually excludes most civil servants, government policy-makers and business personnel, as well as ordinary citizens and civil society groups. In addition, all blog articles are also currently being archived by Google Scholar.
Every article on British Politics and Policy @ LSE is added to our Facebook group and ‘Tweeted’ to nearly 6,000 people every day. Narrative titles become incredibly important in this context. Readers can also sign up for daily email updates as well as the blog’s RSS feed so that they can read the blog through Google Reader, Zune or another feed aggregator. Using Google Analytics we are able to track our readership in great detail. We now receive 26,000 visits every month and have had extensive coverage both in the political blogsphere and in the media (including coverage in the Washington Post, MacLeans of Canada, and Foreign Policy magazine).
It is very important to establish and maintain relationships with other groups in your blog’s arena. We ask other political blogs to cross link to our blog, and we link to them in return. We use other LSE institutional groups such as Alumni associations and academic departments to add our posts to newsletters and mail-outs. We always link to other universities whose academics provide articles. We also run a very successful weekly round-up of all the main UK political blogs, which serves as a comprehensive record of the political goings-on from week to week.
There is no reason at all why other institutions could not replicate our success – the internet is not a zero-sum game and we urgently need to get better at professional communication if the UK government is to be dissuaded from going further along its ill-thought through ‘techno-nationalist’ approach that suggests that only the STEM disciplines (physical sciences and technology) matter in terms of stimulating economic growth.
We believe that there is a huge untapped market for well-informed, continuously updated and varied academic blogging. Academics are already writing content and universities already function as huge dynamic knowledge inventories that insiders know about, but the wider public cannot access. The difficult creative job is therefore already done. Multi-author blogs are a fantastic, easy, and moreover, cheap way for academics and universities to get their research out to what is essentially an unlimited audience. From this process, we can all benefit.
This article is a version of one that first appeared in the December Edition of PSA News (http://www.psa.ac.uk/QuickLink.aspx?title=December%202010&fn=PSAnews/PSANews1012.pdf).